Growing lima beans

Growing lima beans is not difficult but they have a long growing season and, unless you love gardening like we do, then the long wait and the fag of picking and podding them may be too much. But it's the only way to get them. You won't find them in the shops.

If you want to reduce your reliance on red meat for protein it means foods like tofu, green beans, chickpeas, lentils and of course you must grow lima beans if you have a large enough vegetable garden. It's unlikely you can buy fresh, green lima beans.

They are particularly rich in many nutrients like molybdenum (important for diabetics), folate (for lowering homocysteine) and magnesium which is involved in a host of important reactions.

The children love to help with shelling once your growing lima beans pods have been reaped. They need a bit of help opening the fruit.

This page was last updated by Bernard Preston on 7th June, 2019.

And in any case, lima beans are delicious, though difficult to get fresh. Grow them instead. Up a lattice work of sticks they are really very easy to plant, and take up little space. Plus, legumes put nitrogen into the soil for your next vegetable crop.

A bean soup recipe would use butter beans, which are dried limas. Fresh and green straight from the garden is my number one choice.

One caution is that growing lima beans is all about slow food. It needs a long season, they take time to reap, and to pod. The only thing that's quick is cooking them.

Oh and eating them, a delicious food, they'll be consumed by the family in a flash, so plan on a large trellis. They make for a surefire gourmet heaven; add a tad of butter to the hot limas if you're concerned about their starch content, but they have a low glycemic index; they do not produce an insulin rush and are not fattening.

New research published in Lancet indicates that the popular low carbohydrate diets are associated with an increased risk of mortality if you get the extra fat and protein from animal-based sources, but lower if you choose rather to enjoy legumes like limas, and olive oil and avocados.(1)

You'll need to build a trellis before growing lima beans. The bush type are much less prolific and picking them will break your back.

Most vegetables like full sun, and lima beans are certainly no exception; they simply not bear will in partial shade.

I'm not a great believer in bush beans in general, though they do have their advantages; particularly that they bear much sooner, but less prolifically, and all that bending to reap them will keep your chiropractor in business if you're not careful.

Every gardener, in fact everybody, full stop, should be doing some lower back exercises in any case. They take less than two minutes; done faithfully every morning before you get out of bed they'll save you a heap of pain; cash in your pocket too. I do them myself.

Here's some interesting research; vigorous rehabilitation exercises were slightly more effective than chiropractic,  and anti-inflammatories came a distant third, in the management of low back pain.

Best of all is a combination of chiropractic and exercise.

So, pole lima beans need something to grow on. I've built a trelliswork of bamboo canes, about three metres long, but a conventional fence would work nearly as well; it's just not quite high enough really.

Start by digging two trenches, the deeper the better, about one metre apart. Fill them with humus if you've been busy starting a compost pile because your growing lima beans are heavy feeders. Latterly I've just been tipping it on the surface and letting the hens in to find any cutworms.

Press the bamboo canes, or any such support for your lima bean plants, at least eighteen inches into the soft soil in the trenches, about a metre apart; it's not critical.

Later you'll anchor them down properly.

Make the canes cross in a tepee, and then run two long bamboos, one lying in the cross, one beneath, and tie them tightly with coarse string. I like to put one heavy pole in at each end, say two foot deep, to firmly anchor your trellis.


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Once it's laden with your lima bean plants and pods, if a strong wind should spring up, you could lose the lot.

It took me about two hours to build this trellis. It lasted a couple seasons.

I've gone now for more permanent structures, higher than an average fence and a lot more pricey too, but will hopefully last twenty or more years; yet crop rotation remains important. You can't grow legumes every season in the some place

There's no risk of a garden fence being blown over in a wind storm. Lima beans will grow as high as you make your fence, but reaping them then becomes a problem.

They come from South America by the way and, influenced by the Andes, will grow very tall. Have you got a long ladder?

Growing lima beans

Growing lima beans because you are unlikely to buy them so plant a few instead; it's not difficult.

Lima beans need a very strong trellis to support them.

We'll be growing pole beans, sugarsnap peas, butternut, gem squash, lima beans on these fences. Here, she who must be obeyed is preparing the ground for a crop of potatoes. See all the compost she's digging in?

Lima beans add nitrogen to the soil but need plenty of humus to get started.

Cheap and easy, the bamboo canes didn't last but they have one great advantage over the fences for growing lima beans seen above. They are movable and you don't grow the same crop year after year in the same spot; that's a recipe for disease and pests like the Mexican bean beetle larvae that plague us. We have recently introduced hens to control the bugs and fertilise the ground naturally. 

Alternatively, building a permanent vegetable garden fence is a good option; but crop rotation is important so I've started using a vegetable garden trellis in addition for our climbers.

Climbing lima beans need a strong supporting trellis to grow on.

Planting lima beans seeds in the next step. I like to put in three seeds around each pole, about an inch deep. A cut worm may take one or two.

Press that pole supporting your limas deep into the ground.

Now you just have to be patient. I started growing these lima beans in mid December (midsummer in the southern hemisphere). Here are my pole lima beans some 10 weeks later.

The lima bean plants send out fronds in all directions, and they need to be directed periodically, otherwise they break off when they get too heavy in mid-space.

Lima beans produce a prolific foliage.

11 weeks later the pods are forming. It won't be long before we are enjoying our first green lima beans soup.

Much excitement as the first lima bean pods appear.

Reaping lima beans

I made the mistake of planting my lima beans too thickly. Max one per stake in the future. They have formed a thick canopy, making picking the limas a slow business. The pods hide amongst the leaves...

Podding lima beans is a joy to behold.

The lima beans is astonishingly prolific; these below all came from one plant, after feeding us several meals. It's a sort of loaves and fishes plant. It's early spring and we are still enjoying the tail end of last summer's crop; they have been bearing continuously for over six months.

We are avid seed collectors; in packets from the seed company they would have cost several hundred dollars.

We are now starting to branch out into the many other varieties of lima beans; more about that in 2019; I have the seed but they won't be planted until next Spring.

Those are butternut seed in the bottom left corner; keep only the best.

At the end of the season collect the fried lima bean pods for next year's crop.


In a mild climate with no severe winters there is no need to pull the plant out of the ground at the end of the growing season. Just prune it back a bit, and it will shoot and bear again in Spring, long before your new seeds will fruit.

I've never kept them more than one extra season; probably they will continue to bear, just at a lower yield. Try it and give me feedback.

Cooking lima beans

It's really very easy, just like cooking ordinary string beans. About five minutes. Cooking lima beans ...

Read more about lima beans at WHF.

Lower back exercises

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Use the Site Search function in the navigation bar above to find the links to those topics like lower back exercises above, and heart stroke diabetes and breast tumours below, highlighted in bold.

Breast tumours and prevention

Growing lima beans means a diet full of breast tumour prevention.

There's a definite association between breast cancer, and probably all CA and red meat; so says the World Health Organisation.

That's written in stone for processed red-meat by the way.

Moving steadily away from red meat, and perhaps even dairy products and eggs, though there I am yet to be convinced, to legumes for our protein makes sense. It is a true Cyan Zone issue; good for us and especially for the planet too.

Actually it's more about the balance of the meal, as set out up in research published at JAMA and outlined at heart, stroke, and diabetes. Provided you are enjoying your rainbow of colours every day, then in my book you can enjoy some red meat, dairy and eggs; I do. 

Legumes like lima beans will enrich any lunch plate with succotash.

If you regularly enjoy a lunch plate like this, you need have no guilt with Eggs Florentine for breakfast, and steak, onions and veggies for dinner. Much as I love them, bacon and ham have been relegated to high and holy days. Viennas and polony are totally out; banished for ever. When it comes to mention of malignant breast tumours, every sentence shall contain the word prevention.

The succotash recipe adds a healthy traditional flavour; grandma would approve, so we should too.

If growing limas is not an option, then enjoy canned butter beans; they're the same thing, only they do not taste nearly so good as straight from the garden.

  • Breast tumours and prevention

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Bernard Preston

Bernard Preston admits he's becoming something of a health nut; all around him he has patients, family and friends dying of tumours. He'd rather not join them.

Growing lima beans in his spare time is just one small part of that fascination for achieving a healthy eighty-plus orbits of the sun. It is Blue Zone longevity that has inspired him; where ten times as many people reach one hundred and vigorous, zestful old age is the norm.

The trick is in the balance, and not submit to becoming a health nut neurotic.

Healthy living

Healthy living is no longer an option for me with close relatives and two close friends right now undergoing chemo, one for the second time.

No thank you, I'll stick to these healthy living tips. Will you join me? But growing lima beans is only an option if are privileged like me to have a large garden.

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56 Groenekloof Rd,

Hilton, KZN

South Africa